The Lions’ deadly dismantling of Zebre in the URC at the weekend had their supporters casting their minds back to the glory days at Ellis Park under Johan Ackermann and Swys de Bruin. And while it’s true that the Italians are no great shakes, there are strong suggestions that the Lions have turned a corner.
They have been threatening a revival all season and while the results have not been favourable, they could have won all of those games. The difference this time was the profitable use of the bountiful possession that the forwards have been winning all season.
Until this game, the Lions’ conversion rate of opportunities in the enemy danger zone has been parlous.
Against Zebre, the Lions’ playmakers came good and speed merchants like Edwill van der Merwe, Henco van Wyk and Richard Kriel cashed in.
The “find” of the season in South Africa is undoubtedly Sanele Nohamba with his move from scrumhalf to flyhalf – the diminutive pivot is always up to something and defences find him a nightmare to read.
Nohamba made good use of the 75% possession earned by the pack, with nine tries scored, and he also kicked 14 points.
Lions coach Ivan van Rooyen said he always knew his charges would come good.
“The irony is we felt we played well enough in all five, make it six now, games,” Van Rooyen said.
“It was small moments at important times that cost us. That would change the momentum and often cost us the game.”
Van Rooyen said his team’s performance was all the more impressive because it came off the back of a tiring week.
“It’s been a tough week in terms of travel, coming back to 35 degrees, so to see a performance like that makes you proud.
“But like I said, the performances have been good enough to win us more games than we have. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see those games through.
“The last two or three games it has been a lot better from us in terms of constant pressure and then conversion into points.
“It has been a work-on and instead of chasing your tail for the last 20, 30 minutes it was nice being on the other side.”
Captain Marius Louw was likewise unsurprised that the Lions came spectacularly good: “It’s not something new, we’ve always had that freedom to attack, it’s just about expressing that intent at the right times.
“Obviously, once you execute you build confidence and are able to do it more and more. We’re a good team when we stick to our processes and we did that well today, and within that comes the freedom to have a go.”
One player who stood out even when almost everyone shone was the No 8, Francke Horn.
He showed remarkable pace, mobility, and handling skills in a performance that has landed him firmly on the greater Springbok radar.
This week the Lions host a Dragons team that is reeling from a big hiding in Durban. The Welsh team actually started well against the Sharks and kept at it until the last quarter when they were run off their feet.
They are not the greatest of teams but they do not give up.
“On Thursday and Friday last week, we as coaches spent a lot of time looking ahead to the Dragons — they are a tough team,” Van Rooyen said.
“They keep on fighting, they have a good kicking game, a good, solid set piece.
“So, the focus from us will be to keep on building momentum and keep on working on consistency, whether it’s execution or pressure or mentally just to be able to replicate this performance.”